Waking An IMSA Giant: Revisiting The Hikari Supra Turbo

It’s funny how old flames pop into your life unexpectedly.

After becoming a National Champion in the SCCA, David Schardt turned his attention to a new series. IMSA’s popular Speedvision Cup series highlighted many of the stronger production cars at the time, and Schardt decided to try the fourth-generation Supra Turbo against some of the best. After a successful run, he decided to sell the car, but two decades later it popped up, and he decided to rekindle an old romance.

The Perfect Setting

With factory involvement and lots of television coverage, IMSA Speedvision attracted plenty of attention. Some of that had to do with the growing pool of young talent climbing the ladder through this demanding category. Names like Johannes Van Overbeek, Andy Pilgrim, and Randy Pobst all went on to massive success in American road racing.

A competitive environment and manageable regulations made the Speedvision Cup the perfect place to develop some of the most intriguing sports cars sold during that era. One of which grew into a cult legend in the last two decades, but for whatever reason has never been closely associated with corner-carving — let alone professional road racing.

Suited to Super Stock

With the help of Shawn Passen of Passen Motorsports, Schardt quickly modified two of the largely unproven Supras for Super Stock racing for the 1997 and 1998 seasons of the Speedvision Cup. The two builders, eager to find something with that certain zing, mulled over a name that would suit their new Japanese sports car. The word hikari, Japanese for “light” the kind of light which emanates from the sun, stuck.

The Grand Sport class mandated all the cars remain very similar to factory format, which was suited for the powerful, large-braked, and aerodynamically stable Supra. To run with the fleet of Porsches, Mustang Cobras, and BMWs, Schardt and Passen stripped and stiffened the car, then bolted on a set of Koni shocks and TRD swaybars. Those additions were enough to turn the car quite well, and racing pads in the factory four-piston calipers could stop the ~3,150-pound body for hours without issue. Overbuilt as so many Japanese cars from this era were, the Supra could take a great deal of punishment in near-stock form!

Just as stout from the showroom floor was the esteemed straight-six motor. The 2JZ-GTE engine was hardly touched and still it was potent; a mild increase in boost, a few cooling modifications, an intake, and a freer-flowing exhaust netted more than 400 horsepower and the kind of grunt which wouldn’t fade as the race ran on. “We ran multiple six-hour races with the car in this configuration without any hiccups,” Schardt recounted proudly. Honestly, this car was a tank in the best sense of the term, and the Supra achieved many top-ten finishes that year.

Shod in Forgeline’s classic RS wheels, the Hikari Supra passes a Comptech Acura NSX.

Fulfilling the Supra’s Potential

As the ’98 season pressed on, Hikari Racing decided to climb another rung of the racing ladder. Toyota, appreciating Hikari’s efforts in Speedvision Cup, decided to lend a hand. Factory backing can take an ambitious privateer team quite a long way. So, with Toyota writing some of the bigger checks, Hikari was able to step into World Challenge for the 1999 season.

Toyota supplied them with a VINless body — a “crusher,” as they call it — and a slew of parts to make the Supra more of an uncompromised GT racer. Perhaps the most significant changes were made to the motor. After discarding the factory CT12B turbos, they replaced them with a hefty single Turbonetics TS04 turbocharger. Even with the Motec M48 engine management system working, they had a tough time softening the big single’s mule-kick power delivery.

The Hikari Supra charging down the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

Unorthodox Racing cam gears, a free-flowing exhaust, and a few other miscellaneous items helped the 2JZ-GTE produce more than 600 horsepower — most of which arrived in one big bang around 5,000 rpm. While the tires had a hard time managing that thrust, the factory Getrag V160 gearbox never protested. In fact, all it needed was an HKS triple-plate clutch to harness all that turbo power. People nowadays complain about the outrageous costs of the V160, but anything that can handle a season of abuse is worth a pretty penny.

The blade of the TRD wing: the only angular shape on the Supra’s otherwise flowing, rounded body.

Aerodynamic upgrades were strictly limited, but a few OEM aero pieces were put in place to compound the Supra’s inherent high-speed stability. An adjustable TRD wing and a custom splitter helped stabilize the Supra at speeds where it could best flex its power advantage.

Though most of the interior was stripped, the Supra’s curved dash — reminiscent of a fighter plane’s cockpit — was retained. A full cage, Sabelt seat, and Momo wheel were all that decorated the spacious, ergonomic, and undeniably stylish cockpit. The cockpit of a front-engined race car with a turbo is a hellishly hot place to be, but that swanky interior made the temperatures a little easier to ignore.

The unique cockpit makes this car an almost-pleasant place to be on hot race days.

A Sprint Special

One of the most powerful cars in the field, the Hikari Supra in World Challenge-spec was one of the fastest in the field. However, its powerful motor was not without issue. The bump in boost and supporting modifications made the Supra a qualifying special: extremely quick for brief periods, but not as effective over the course of a full race.

Turbo power! The V8-powered Porsche 928 cannot match Hikari Supra along Laguna Seca’s long straights:

Limited by rubber and heat issues, the World Challenge Supra regularly qualified at the front of the grid. For the first half of the race, its incredible power and Alcon titanium racing brakes made it seem certain to streak away towards the horizon. During the second half of the race, it simply couldn’t maintain the pace.

Though the vented TRD hood helped in managing heat, it wasn’t enough to keep the powerplant cool for the full distance. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the massive front-mounted HKS intercooler limited airflow to the Fluidyne radiator and slowly cooked the engine. Eventually, they upgraded to a custom side-mount intercooler, but the motor still ran a bit too warm for long hauls.

The Supra cooked more than just its engine. Even though the rules were comparatively relaxed in World Challenge, the Supra’s aftermarket was quite limited in ’99. Where the suspension was concerned, Hikari ran a similar setup to that used in Super Stock: Koni shocks, Eibach springs, TRD swaybars, and now with Blonde Motorsports Heim-joints. Even with those improvements, the massive 315-section BFGoodrich G-Force tires in the rear struggled to administer that asphalt-churning power cleanly. Before the halfway distance, most of it was deposited on the asphalt in long, black streaks.

Even with its Shaq-sized footprint, the Supra had a tough time administering 600-plus horsepower.

Blinding initial pace followed by a premature end could have described the course the Supra took in the years to come. Despite multiple podium finishes and fourth overall in the championship that year, Toyota decided to withdraw its support for the car at season’s end. For them, there wasn’t much sense in sponsoring a vehicle no longer sold new on the U.S. market; the Supra’s stateside production run ended in 1998.

The Big Sleep

Toyota’s association with Schardt and Passen did not end there, though. They were supplied with several contemporary Celicas to run the 2000 World Challenge season, although oiling issues kept them from achieving as much as their bigger brother. Around that point, Schardt decided to put the Supra up for sale. It quickly sold to an enthusiast in Ohio for much less than it cost to build.

While sad to see it go, he was happy to move onto a new project with some money in his pocket. Quickly, Schardt lost track of the car. Never expecting to again see the iconic yellow haunches of his old World Challenge steed — a warhorse he believed had indeed been put out to pasture — you can imagine his surprise when it popped up on eBay a few years ago.

Seeing his Supra again made Schardt feel like he’d rolled the clock back two decades.

“It really was a rolling time warp,” Schardt recalls with a chuckle. Though it developed an endearing patina in the past two decades, the car was cosmetically identical to the way it had left Schardt’s shop. Even the original decals were still in place! Unfortunately, time took its toll under the surface. Ever the perfectionist, Schardt began rebuilding the rest of the car with access to a broader aftermarket and modern technology.

It’s a much tamer car than it was in its racing heyday, mostly because of modern tires and a better tune. Now, Hoosier R7 slicks wrap Forgeline GW3R wheels at each corner, giving the car the stick and style it deserves. “We went with the GW3R mainly because of the looks. We do not produce the old RS wheels anymore, and we needed a wheel strong enough for current-day race tires but still had a look that would fit with the era of the car. I thought the GW3R fit that bill,” Schardt says.

The GA3R’s simple, curving design complement the Supra’s famously sharky shape.

With Titan swaybars, Koni 30-series shocks, and solid bushings all around, it’s not entirely tame, but its a long way from its former unruly self. Additionally, Brembo six-pistons in front and four-pistons in the rear help bring the 3,150-pound Toyota to a halt. They’re direly needed with the added punch from a rebuilt motor.

Bringing the 2JZ Up to Modern Standards

After sending the motor off to Titan Motorsports for a comprehensive overhaul, the Supra is now faster than ever. They stuffed the 2JZ-GTE with TMS 264 cams, Carillo rods, and CP pistons. The resulting 9:0:1 compression is ideal for the high-boost levels Schardt wants to push through his Garrett GTW6465R turbocharger controlled by twin Tial wastegates.

Now fed E85 through TMS injectors controlled by a Motec M800 ECU, the engine is more tractable than before. Modern technology and a stronger tune help Schardt deploy its ~670 horsepower with less drama, more propulsion, and more speed. That said, “you still have to be very careful with your right foot,” Schardt warns with a chuckle.

With this version of the motor, Schardt made sure to solve the overheating issues which plagued him back in the day. “The Motec M800 has more processing power, and the new turbo and other components are more efficient,” Schardt notes. “Titan also built a custom undertray for the car which directs air through the radiator better.” With the improved airflow to the Fluidyne radiator, temperatures never got over 180° F on a hot Ohio day several weeks ago.

“This level of power, reliability, and usability couldn’t have been had without Titan,” says Schardt.

In the months to come, Schardt plans on adding JRi shocks, displaying the car in the Dayton area, and driving it in anger. He just ran a vintage race, mostly against Porsche Cup cars and Trans-Am cars of the ’80s and ’90s, and finished third in class and sixth overall. Going up against 900-horsepower motors in Trans-Am cars and remaining at the sharp end of the pack is a testament to turbo power.

It’s a fitting new chapter in the life of a car which helped grow Forgeline as a brand. “We were selling a lot of wheels into the World Challenge series already, but having a car in the series and being at the track every event allowed us to really connect with the teams, and also experience their wheel needs and issues firsthand. Racing in the series made us truly understand what a wheel and wheel company needs to have to endure in top-level racing,” Schardt recounts with some pride.

Even with its age and history, the Hikari Supra is not retiring behind the doors of a dusty barn anytime soon. Schardt’s the type who wouldn’t feel too comfortable putting this old warhorse out to pasture again. With the way it out-accelerates most modern racing cars, it’s not hard to understand why.

Article Sources

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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